Race photos! And why don’t my calves hurt?

Here they are; my # was 331. Man, that was a great race. Because it can’t be said too much: Blue Ridge Marathon organizers and volunteers, you all did a great job.

My quads are almost back to 100%, still a little stiff going down stairs.

So why is it when newbies run without shoes at first, their calves are so sore? The assumed answer is that the barefoot form requires a lot of calf strength. If that’s the case, shouldn’t my calves be screaming after my first barefoot marathon? Instead, at no point prior to, during, or after the race have my calves felt even the slightest tension. This means one of two things: either my calves are wicked strong, at least compared to my quads, or beginners are sore because they’re doing it wrong (because they’re beginners). An application of Occam’s razor principal suggests the winning answer is numero dos.

I think what beginners are doing “wrong” stems in part from a misunderstanding of what the foot is supposed to do. They think the foot needs to be strong, that the landing is made smooth by using muscles instead of relaxing them. There’s also the fear of letting the heel land, and just fear in general causes tension.

“Hey SUCKcliffe,” says Jake, that jerk from the 5th grade who would always slap me upside the head as he passed my desk to sharpen a pencil for the umteenth time that day, “I got something for ya.” I know it’s coming, yet turn around anyway. I see his evil grin and wait for the inevitable – he fake-punches me, fist stopping inches from my nose. I flinch, every muscle in my body tightening up. “HA HA HA HA,” says Jake. Hate that guy.

That’s what we do when we’re expecting an incoming blow. That’s what we do when we (re)learn to run barefoot. We expect the ground to hurt, and tense up for the impact. Just as with a punch, we have the ability to overcome our instincts and relax, stay calm, and roll with it.

So what does this have to do with calves? Simple. If your calves hurt, you’re doing something wrong. It’s not part of a physical conditioning process. It’s one of your first lessons: learn how to run so your calves don’t hurt. Don’t try to make your calves stronger; all that will do is move the pain to somewhere else. Strong calves won’t improve your form; instead, they can hide the effects of bad form. Just like tough feet. It’s going down the coal mine without the canary.

All that said, sore calves might be inevitable for beginners. That tension from fear is a natural instinct that takes practice to control. But if you want to run barefoot, or at least have a better understanding of what running barefoot is about, you have to change the way you think about pain. Don’t embrace pain as a means of becoming tougher. Avoid pain as a means of becoming smoother. Being smoooooooth is what it’s all about.

Recovery and Reflection

How do my feet look after running a(n almost) marathon without shoes? So glad you asked!

Note small boo-boo on the 5th metatarsal. Stupid rock.

Dark dot on side of foot was a splinter.

Feet are a little dirty because I was wearing the VFFs to walk the dogs at Farris Park this morning. At any rate, there you have it. After a marathon of rough, old asphalt on 10% grade hills, that’s the extent of the damage. The 5th metatarsals (the pad at the base of the pinkie toe) are still a little sensitive.

What else doesn’t hurt? Let’s see, the soles of my feet feel fine. So do the tops of my feet. My calves are as fresh as daisies. My ankles feel good. Hamstrings are still a little tight, but they always are. They’re not sore anymore. My back, which was  a little stiff after one of my long runs, feels fine. Shins are spiffy.

What does hurt? My quads. Keeping myself in check (so I don’t wreck myself) down the hills started feeling like doing squats with a grand piano on my head after a while. I can run upstairs, but down is an amusing torture. Fortunately there are no stairs in my house.

Regrets? I really regret not sleeping. I wanted to, but I was feeling a little anxiety. Want to know what’s worse for barefooters than shoe wearers? Our nightmares. I look forward to running a marathon fully rested. Some day. I also regret carrying the shoes. Hindsight is 20/20, etc, but I would have liked being able to use my hands more on the descents. I regret not staying for the after party. I was unnecessarily worried about my dogs (canine) being cooped up in the house for too long. They were fine, and I missed an opportunity to thank the organizers in person for putting on such an awesome event. Performance-wise, I could have gone up the hills a little faster. I was holding back, but I’m not sure there was much pay-off due to the nature of the descents. I regret not meeting Paul Oly, who also ran the marathon barefoot. I thought I was the only one until I saw this photo gallery. Hope he finished feeling good!

Suggestion Box: Talk about nit-picking, but that’s all there is to do if one is to find something to criticize about the Blue Ridge Marathon. So here it goes: more porta-potties at the start, which could be said about every race ever in the history of portapotties at races. More runner stuff in the goody bag. I feel like a big time jerk for saying that one, since I really don’t care about goody bags, but, there’s room for improvement. And the shirts, while very comfy, are a little plain. I only say that because I want to design the shirt for next year.

So there you have it. I’m feeling good and will probably try out the legs and feet tomorrow. I’m about 97.443% sure I’ll sign up for Grandfather, waiting to see how I feel after a 8-10 mile run before I put the money down. The Blue Ridge Marathon was such a great experience, I had to resort to the goody bag to find something to criticize. I’m in a good mood.

PS I’m going to head back up to Roanoke to run the mountain again (not the whole route, of course) in June, this time making sure I complete a certain out-n-back… maybe some Roanokers would like to join me?

Funny thing about that porta-potty…

So it’s the next day, and I’m feeling pretty good. Quads are sore, but that’s about it. Well, one other thing. There was a runner I remember passing me, who passed me again later in the race. I don’t remember passing him. Not that odd, I suppose. But I also remember being a little confused when I got out of the porta-potty. “This way, barefoot dude!” said a runner as I stepped out onto the road. So I went.

Let’s take a look at the map:

CourseMap Final

Between miles 11 and 12, there’s a pit stop at an out-n-back loop. I didn’t do that out-n-back. I skipped about 3/4mi of the course.

This means not only did I not PR, I did not run a full marathon. I’m surprisingly not too bugged about it; it was a great run, I had a great time, and am proud of my effort. BUT, I don’t think it would be right for me to boast about a PR when my finish time would be more like a 4:24/25 had I stuck to the route and run the whole thing.

Also, this is 100% NOT the organizers fault. They had helpers at the turn, who were probably amazed that I had “run” the out-n-back so fast. This was just me with my terrible sense of direction. Maybe if I looked at my watch a little more often, I would have noticed something weird. But I was just running, having a good time.

So there you have it. Interpret as you will; I say I had a wonderful 25.5 mile race. Not a marathon, not a PR, but whatevs as the kids say. I’ll just have to do it all over again for the first time next year.